“We Are Shooting Ourselves in the Foot”

As the city prepares for an explosion of arts, music, comedy and creativity, Daniel White caught up with Brighton Fringe Director Julian Caddy to talk about the festival’s impact on the city

With over 700 events across 200 venues during this month’s Brighton Fringe Festival, there are bound to be plenty of highlights and Julian Caddy, the Festival Director, can feel the excitement coursing through him.

“It is something that gets into your blood, going to a Fringe,” he begins. “It’s very intangible as a force because it’s so brief, it’s a bit like a drug, there’s no other time of the year where you might see three, four, five, six shows a day. I suppose it’s the transient nature of a Fringe Festival, I don’t think it ever quite leaves you that excitement.”

Caddy has been part of Fringe Festivals since 1996 when he visited the Edinburgh Fringe and, as he explains, caught “the bug”. Time spent as a performer, producer, workshop leader and director all took place before he took on the role with the Brighton Fringe in 2011.

During his time in Edinburgh, he saw a number of changes to the structure of the Fringe, chiefly an upsurge in the festival’s commercialisation and, with spectators and participants expressing their concern at the continued inflation of ticket prices and venue hire, he is determined not to let the same happen in Brighton.

“It’s the commercial nature of the Fringe that’s changed an awful lot,” Caddy reflects. “Edinburgh City Council and a lot of the residents make a good deal of money out of Edinburgh Fringe and that means that ultimately that trickles down; the people who pay more are the participants and the audiences.

“So that’s what’s happened up in Edinburgh and the difference in Brighton is that we have a very supportive council and a much more locally based venue structure. I want it to be something which is nurtured locally as much as possible, something which is by Brighton, for Brighton but also welcoming others. So 60-70 per cent of the audiences are local, a quarter of the shows are home-grown and you hopefully have an environment which is more welcoming, more open.”

However, the issue of commercialisation is not the only dispute surrounding the city festivals. While the Brighton Festival receives large sums of funding, the Fringe, Great Escape and others continue to struggle to come to terms with why it is they are so under-appreciated.

“There’s a plethora of reasons,” Caddy explains. “One reason is that Brighton Fringe the charity doesn’t decide on the quality of the events, it’s open access, and the arts council is all about quality. I would argue that that’s a total nonsense because if you’re creating this environment for things to flourish then inevitably you will be creating quality.

“The other thing about a Fringe is that because a lot of the things are new, you don’t know yet whether they’re going to be good or not, so I would argue that it is especially that that needs the funding because it is the grass roots, it is the future of the arts world and so I do think it’s terribly under-funded and it should get more.”

Although Caddy made sure he was not insinuating that all funding should be removed from the Brighton Festival, he feels that the whole time the two battle each other for dominance, they are doing themselves an injustice.

He says: “Both festivals jostle for position in the city, one with lots of funding and lots of advertising capacity, one which is a lot bigger, which is a bit more haphazard, a bit rough around the edges. It’s like having two sofa shops in the same street, it brings more people to come and buy sofas and so I think the more activity that takes place within the city is going to attract more people.”

There is a solution, though, according to Caddy, which would be simple to implement.

“I think that the budget should be taken away from Brighton Festival and given to Visit Brighton. Then they could brand the city and celebrate the diversity of what’s happening in the city during May, rather than championing one event.

“I think that if we work together, we will see greater benefits globally from it. Brighton does deserve better audiences and I think that if we’re not working together then we are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Fringe Festival Director Julian Caddy
Fringe Festival Director Julian Caddy

To see the Brighton Fringe line-up or for more information on the festival, visit www.brightonfringe.org